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Industry bodies: Suspending prescription charge could ‘save lives’

The government should scrap the NHS prescription charge in England for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PSNC has said.

In a joint letter last week (April 24), the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Dispensing Doctors’ Association (DDA) told health secretary Matt Hancock that pharmacists dispensing prescriptions are “at increased risk through unnecessary contact” with patients.

The three bodies said they recommend “a temporary removal of the prescription charge” during the pandemic – creating a “smoother and safer prescription procedure”.

Addressing health secretary Matt Hancock, PSNC CEO Simon Dukes, BMA chair Dr Richard Vautrey and DDA chair Dr Richard West, asked the government to consider the suspension of the prescription charge and doing away with prescription signatures.

Doing so could “save lives – protecting vulnerable patients and those working daily on the frontline to dispense prescriptions at a time of heightened risk to their own safety and that of their families”, they argued.

The three bodies said seeking signatures from patients at this time is “not appropriate” as it puts “both the dispenser and patient at increased risk [of COVID-19] through unnecessary contact”.  They suggested that “the recording of personal details should be sufficient” and that this would enable a reduction in contact between pharmacy teams and patients.  

As of April 1, the charge for a single prescription is £9.15, a 15p increase on the previous amount.  The PSNC, BMA and DDA said they “understand the government intends to extend the validity period for exemption certificates ”for maternity, medical and low income exemptions.

The organisations said they support this as it means these patient groups will be able to continue to “use their existing certificate”, helping to “reduce the chances of infection and workload at this critical time”. However, they argued that this is only "a first step in reducing unnecessary contact” and that more needs to be done.

The three representative bodies urged Mr Hancock to implement a number of measures to keep healthcare teams and patients safe during the COVID-19 outbreak, including the “temporary suspension of the need for a signature when collecting controlled drugs from a dispenser”.

Reduce “unnecessary bureaucracy”

The three organisations also asked the government to consider permanently removing the requirement for patients who pay a prescription charge to sign a declaration on the prescription form or EPS token.

“This is an unnecessary process generating both additional work and cost for both patient and dispenser and we recommend removing the process permanently”, they said in the letter.

The call from the PSNC, BMA and DDA to temporarily suspend the prescription charge comes nearly a month after C+D launched a campaign for this to be implemented for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The campaign, which earlier this month (April 1) saw C+D editor Beth Kennedy write a letter to Matt Hancock urging the health secretary to drop the script fee during the pandemic, is supported by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran.

Tweet us using the hashtag #ScrapScriptCharges to have your say on scrapping the prescription charge

Do you support the call for the prescription charge to be suspended during COVID-19?

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